Being issued a traffic challan is harrowing, but a trip to the courts to settle the fine can be even more distressing despite attempts by authorities to make the process simple and quick
Sameer Singh had been counting down the days to the bittersweet moment when he would bid adieu to his best friend who is going abroad for studies. But when the day finally arrived, the 22-year-old found himself at the Patiala Courts Complex instead of the Delhi airport.
On October 8, Sameer was pulled over by the police on Barakhamba Road. He was driving his motorcycle without a learner’s licence and failed to produce any vehicle documents. Despite his pleas to settle the heavy fine on the spot, Sameer’s bike was impounded and he was handed over a court challan.
While he blamed himself for getting into the mess, Sameer reserved some angst for the procedural “delays and complexities” of the court. “If it weren’t for the delays, I could have wrapped things up here and bid farewell to my friend,” he said.
‘I am clueless’
“This is the first time I have been in a court, I am clueless as to how I will get my registration certificate back. The policemen who issued me the challan gave me some tips, but things are not so easy here. I requested the policemen for an on-spot challan but they refused citing the new Motor Vehicles (MV) Act,” said Sameer, who was wandering the complex looking for the right room.
As he was roaming around, a man wearing a black coat approached Sameer and introduced himself as an advocate. Sensing that Sameer was lost, the man took the challan from his hand and after a brief glance said he could get the matter settled for ₹1,000, including fees.
Sameer thought he had struck a deal and asked the man to help him. After going in and out of several rooms, the man came back and asked for ₹4,000.
Confused, Sameer asked the ‘lawyer’ to return his challan slip saying he would find his own way. The man, however, told Sameer that the challan had already been submitted and now he would have to appear before a magistrate.
After several hours, Sameer was finally able to pay his challan by depositing ₹4,000 to the court and paying ₹1,000 to the man.
Though Sameer had a harrowing time, others had a more straightforward and simple experience.
‘Do not accept help’
“It is always better to appear before a magistrate without any external help and accept your fault if you have violated traffic rules… and if not then contest your case by producing necessary proof or document to establish your claim,” said Raghav Chandra, who paid his challan without assistance of any advocate.
Mr. Chandra said it was his third time in court. The first two times was to help out his friends.
“I know the procedure, so I made photocopies of the required documents before coming… first-timers have to roam around searching for photocopy shops inside court premises,” said Mr. Chandra, who was in court to get his vehicle released.
Most traffic violators have to come to evening courts, especially assigned to deal with traffic challans. While acknowledging the problems being faced by those trying to pay off their challan, the Delhi police claim to have come up with several solutions.
“To make things smoother for motorists who visit the courts to pay challan, we have a facility called ‘Virtual Court’ at the Tis Hazari Courts where motorists can pay their challan without visiting the court,” said a traffic police official.
In a virtual court, the violator gets an SMS with a weblink, which redirects to a virtual court web portal. Thereafter, the violator can opt to pay the challan online or contest the challan. However, the option is not available to all.
“The option is only for non-serious traffic offences, for offences like drunk driving or red-light jumping or violations under which the vehicle gets impounded falls under serious traffic offences,” added the official.
A traffic policeman said that after the implementation of the new MV Act, only court challans are being issued in Delhi.
“It is a time-consuming process but not complicate,” he said, adding: “Traffic violators do not need any legal assistance to pay the challan in court. The SMS sent to the violator contains the address of the court with the date and time where he or she has to appear before a magistrate,” said the policeman.
“If the motorist has all the documents that he failed to produce during the challan, then he/she can contest the challan and the magistrate might exempt him/her from paying any fine,” he added.
Procedure, however, is not the only problem. Many seek reduction in fines.
Autorickshaw driver Ram Sharan, who was caught jumping a red light while having extra passengers in Saket, pleaded before a magistrate at the District Court Saket that he would not be able to pay the ₹5,000 fine. “I am unable to pay the fine amount as it is huge for me. The documents of my vehicle were confiscated during the challan. I will wait for the next Lok Adalat scheduled next week where the court will further reduce the fine amount in a way to clear pendency,” said Mr. Sharan.
Advocates, such as the one Sameer met, see the confusion and chaos as an opportunity to make an extra buck. “We never harass or force a visitor to take our service. Visitors come to us to make their work easy as not everyone is legally sound or knows court procedure,” said an advocate in the Patiala Courts Complex.
Dip in challans
A court staffer who coordinates with the Delhi Traffic Police said that after the new MV Act, there has been a significant dip in court challans. “Earlier, the entire gallery used to be full of visitors trying to settle their challans but now it is less crowded. It might be due to high fines… people have started obeying traffic rules,” said the staffer.
Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Narendra Singh Bundela said that before September 1, Delhi Traffic Police used to issue around 20,000 challans a day. After the new MV Act came into force, the figure has come down to around 7,000 challans per day.
“It is good that people are following traffic rules. Most of the challans are referred to the virtual court for speedy redressal. The challans under which a vehicle is impounded are referred to regular courts,” said Mr. Bundela.
Once a motorists has paid the challan, he/she can show the receipt to the concerned traffic police officer to get seized documents and vehicles.
“Vehicles are only impounded if the driver does not have any documents, including driving license, or the driver is unfit to drive, or the vehicle is unfit,” said Mr. Bundela.